INDIANAPOLIS -- This is how good Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has been over the years: He looked lousy on Sunday. His shoulder was injured or his psyche was bruised. That's how it looked to me, anyway, so after the game I asked Manning what was wrong with him. Before we get to his answer, though, two facts probably should be mentioned:
The Colts won, beating Kansas City 19-9 to rid the NFL of its last undefeated team.
And Manning threw for 244 yards.
But his passes weren't perfect. His decision-making wasn't impeccable. Some of his longer throws, I kid you not, didn't hit his receivers between the numbers. And so I asked him: What happened? What's wrong? Did you get hurt? Did you hit the wall? What?
Manning, good guy that he is, answered the question patiently, even elaborately.
"What do you want me to say about that?" Manning said, smiling, after my rambling question finally ended by noting that Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali had hit Manning several times early in the third quarter. "They have a good defense. We knew they'd be a good test. We knew there would be some series that didn't go our way. That's part of football -- it's part of every game taking its own identity. When you can overcome the negative plays, the mistakes, the ugly series, that's what you want to do."
And that's what Manning and his team did. The Colts overcame a nasty, confusing Chiefs defense that dropped its safeties, its linebackers, even some of its defensive linemen into pass coverage. The Colts overcame a game-ending injury to tailback Joseph Addai late in the third quarter, when 297-pound defensive end Glenn Dorsey drove Addai's shoulder into the turf. The Colts overcame several dropped passes by their receivers. The Colts overcame a relatively mediocre outing by Manning.
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And the Colts overcame all of that by putting together the game's only touchdown drive, by either team, midway through the fourth quarter. Indianapolis drove 71 yards in 12 plays, a drive so efficient that the Colts faced just two third downs, neither requiring more than three yards. Backup tailback Mike Hart capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run -- bursting through a hole to get inside the 5-yard line, where he was confronted by both Kansas City safeties. Hart took aim at rookie Eric Berry, blasting into him at the 4, spinning off and powering into the end zone.
"If I get to the 3-, 4-yard line," Hart said, "my job is to get in there."
Manning's job is a little bit bigger-picture than that. His job is to win games, not beauty contests, and he won Sunday's game ugly. Ugly was enough from the Colts offense on a day the Indianapolis defense held the Chiefs to three field goals. Kansas City should have scored a touchdown late in the third quarter when the Colts led 9-6, but Matt Cassel's 30-yard pass into the end zone hit Dwayne Bowe in a bad spot -- both hands. Bowe dropped it, then dropped the next pass on second down, and ultimately the Chiefs had to kick a third Ryan Succop field goal for a 9-9 tie.
The Colts bottled up Chiefs No. 1 running back Thomas Jones, holding him to 19 yards on eight carries, so Chiefs coach Todd Haley leaned more heavily on backup Jamaal Charles. Charles, whose 7-yard average per rush entering the game had Chiefs fans confused as to why he wasn't getting more carries, responded with 87 yards on 16 carries. But the Colts never let him get loose for more than 14 yards, and Cassel wasn't good enough to pick up the slack. Haley didn't expect Cassel to light up the Colts, not with Pro Bowl defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, which is why Haley said he tried to "steal a possession" by starting the game with an onside kick and which is why he went for it on fourth-and-2 from the 8. Neither risk worked, but Haley said he would do it again.
|Kansas City Chiefs|
|Kansas City ran the ball well at times, especially in the first half. But the Chiefs couldn't get into the end zone. The defense did just about everything they wanted to do, limiting the Colts to just one touchdown.|
|Still, it was a good enough effort to get the victory. The offense sputtered at inopportune times but the defense was able to slow down Kansas City just enough to register the win.|
|By Tom James|
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"You have to do certain things against a team of this caliber," Haley said. "We set out trying to do that, and just didn't execute."
With the Chiefs' offense held to 261 yards and stymied by 1-for-10 inefficiency on third down, Manning and the Colts offense needed only to control the clock, kick some field goals and push one touchdown across the board to move into a tie for first in the AFC South.
But they looked off-kilter. Manning in particular looked off-kilter. After a terrific first half -- 10 for 14 for 111 yards, with a Pro Bowl-like quarterback rating of 94.6 -- Manning was just 16 for 30 for 133 yards and an interception in the second half. His passer rating in the second half was in the 50s, pushing his final rating to 65.0.
Manning threw two passes into the end zone that died at the feet of his intended receiver. He missed several targets by throwing behind them -- not back-shoulder passes, but simply late passes. After throwing his sixth incompletion in eight attempts, this one stopping a drive on third down early in the fourth quarter, Manning walked off the field shaking his head.
The slump happened immediately after Manning was decked several times by Hali, including one hit that forced a fumble, but Manning said he was fine, his arm was fine, his head was fine, everything was fine.
And he's probably right. Manning completed 59.1 percent of his passes Sunday, not far from his career rate of 64.9 percent. He threw for a yardage total that, over the course of a 16-game season, would translate to 3,904 yards. And he did it against a defense that was doing its damndest to stop him from throwing the ball at all.
"They were basically using eight-man coverage, dropping a lot of guys into pass coverage," Manning said. "They wanted to see how patient we can be, and we did a pretty good job with that. Just trying to do what we have to do to win a game."